Janelle Monae Talks 'Electric Lady' Origins & Prince Collaboration

Marc Baptiste

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe says a series of paintings she made on tour gave birth to the concept for her forthcoming second studio album, "The Electric Lady."

"I would paint and I would sing at the same time, and every night I painted this female silhouette... for like three, four months in a row," Monáe told Billboard during a recent "listening experience" stop to preview the album in suburban Detroit. 

"I didn't understand back then why I was doing it, so I went home to Atlanta, Georgia, and I talked to my therapist and she said, 'You know what? You should probably name the series... And I was like, 'OK,' so I tried to come up with all these words, all the adjectives to describe the paintings... and the words that come to my ear were 'The Electric Lady,' and I started to think of a world where there were more electric ladies, there was a new breed of women. I was wanting to do something that could be empowering to women... What I wanted to do was create an album that deals with this concept of the Electric Lady and a world where these electric ladies were realizing their super powers and doing self-realization into self-actualization and nurturing the community through their gifts and their unique perspectives on life. That was the thing it really center around, this whole concept of the Electric Lady."

Monáe added that even though she didn't want to repeat what she'd done on 2010's "The ArchAndroid," "The Electric Lady" -- which was co-executive produced by Sean "Diddy" Combs and OutKast's Big Boi -- is still connected to its predecessor.

"Science fiction is still very much a tool that I used," Monáe confirmed. "This still deals with Cindy Maywether, and she is the Electric Lady No. 1. A lot of this serves as a dual purpose of her life and mine combined throughout the album. I didn't quite know where I wanted to go in the story, so this is like the prequel to 'The ArchAndroid,' if you will."

"The Electric Lady," which comes out Sept. 10, features collaborations with Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding.

"Musically I wanted to create an album that was rooted in R&B but make sure I was capturing the diversity in R&B music," she explained. "I was inspired by Bo Diddley, who inspired the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis (Presley). This was the leader, the pioneer of R&B. (The track) 'Dance Apocalyptic' was very much a response to being inspired by him."

Having Prince on "Givin' 'Em What They Love," meanwhile, "was an honor. He's been so excited about my career, and I don't take that for granted. He's a mentor to me -- he does take the time to mentor other artists, not just myself. So he took me on tour with him. It was very organic for us to work together, but I know he does not collaborate with everybody that he performs with, and I don't take that for granted. And I got the opportunity to produce him, so to present the ideas and see it through, I was just honored that he trusted me."

Monáe performs at the iTunes Festival on Sept. 14 in London and is gearing up for the start of her North American tour on Oct. 13 in Philadelphia. She has dates currently booked into late November.

"Performing is one of my first loves; I was actually performing before I was writing my own music," Monae said. "We pretty much keep our responsibility to creating a quality performance and making sure that it's spontaneous, that it's impromptu, that it's raw, that it's electrifying and something you'll never forget. So the songs have to translate live on stage... When you get in front of thousands of people and they're all looking and they want to be moved, you've got to have those jams."